Mooi woord van Karin Spaink, de nippertjeseconomie. Hier wat afschaven, daar een bochtje afsnijden, voorraden minimaliseren en alles just-in-time. Op het nippertje gaat alles goed. Meestal.

In complexiteitsdenken betekent een ver doorgevoerde efficiëntie wel het afbreken van veerkracht en wendbaarheid. Dat is niet zo erg voor heel voorspelbare zaken (als A dan altijd B), maar wel als complexe vragen zich aandienen. Ik spreek dan vaak over de broosheid van systemen. Broos omdat ze geoptimaliseerd zijn voor een hele smalle groep situaties, een heel specifieke niche. Broos omdat ze het niet meer aan kunnen, of erger nog, volledig in de weg zitten zodra er iets buiten dat spectrum gebeurt. Dan kieper je ineens van voorspelbaarheid in de chaos: heb je net in een paar jaar tijd de IC bedden in Nederland met zo’n duizend verlaagd (in 2017 hadden we er nog zo’n 2100, dit voorjaar net over de 1000) want dat is efficiënter, gebeurt er iets wat meer van je verlangt en wordt de zorg zo overbelast dat alleen drastische maatregelen het nog enigszins kunnen inperken.

Die chaos ontstaat uiteindelijk niet door de zich aandienende verandering, maar juist door de starre efficiëntie van je eigen structuren en systemen. Was je bij voorbaat al in het complexe domein gebleven, het domein van voortdurend waarnemen, bewustzijn van samenhangen en wederzijdse invloeden, en bovenal voortdurend situationeel schakelen, was ‘rolling with the punches‘ waarschijnlijk makkelijker geweest tot nu toe. Dat vergt wel op voorhand wat bewegingsruimte, dingen op reserve, niet alles op 1 paard zetten, maar op meerdere en zelfs ook tegenstrijdige paarden tegelijkertijd wedden.

Omdat je op die manier meer leert over de aard van de vraagstukken die je op wilt lossen, en een verscheidenheid aan oplossingen ontdekt in plaats er op voorhand eentje kiest en in beton giet. Energie overhouden om ineens van koers te kunnen wisselen, of een sprintje extra te kunnen trekken. Dingen achter de hand houden. Maar dat is, tot het nodig is, niet efficiënt op de kortere termijn.

Ik had ooit een manager die het verschil niet zag tussen efficiënt en effectief. Dat is het begin van broosheid. Want het verbeteren van de opbrengstenkant heeft altijd meer ruimte in zich dan wat is te winnen met het beperken van de kostenkant, want die heeft een harde ondergrens die meestal vrij dichtbij ligt. Een van die opbrengsten is handelingsruimte, en juist die wordt in de nippertjeseconomie vaak drastisch beperkt.

Het maakt een veelheid van onze systemen broos, doordat we de onderlinge afhankelijkheden tussen allerlei zaken uit zicht poetsen en negeren, om op ons specifieke stukje van een vraagstuk efficiënter te kunnen zijn. Omdat ze geoptimaliseerd zijn voor druk uit een bepaalde richting maar niet uit een andere. Zoals een been wel goed kan tegen belasting van bovenaf, maar niet goed tegen torsie en draaien. Broos omdat we in een nippertjeseconomie leven. Mooi woord.

Two things to read and think about on presenting and being present in video talks and webinars. One by Matt Web, Rethinking Video Talks, (found via Peter Rukavina), on how his usual careful design of switching between slides and himself, creating rhythm and building up sequences. One by Bryan Alexander on how to ensure webinars aren’t bad and boring, the first of a series of upcoming postings.

Like everyone in the world working from home during the pandemic, we saw a sudden switch to intensive use of video conferencing for the past eight weeks.
Daily stand-ups with clients, coffee chats with colleagues, meetings, on and on, up to the point you feel you’re only in video calls the entire day. It was such a sudden increase that it now feels suddenly odd to have an actual phone call, without video.

I want to jot down some of our experiences with various video conferencing tools these past weeks, and how it compares to ‘before’. It’s a good thing meanwhile to keep in mind that phones, sms, mail etc also still exist.

One of the first things that stood out for my company at the start of the lock down was that while we did have regular video conferences previously, we didn’t host them ourselves. It was mostly at the invitation of clients or others, using their solutions such as Webex, and Skype for business. Amongst ourselves we used Skype, but usually made regular phone calls. Within my World Bank projects we used Skype as well.

Our cloud tool, NextCloud offers NextCloud Talk, supported with a STUN and a TURN server. We tested this and it works reasonably well for up to 4 people. Our first experiences were however not convincing enough to want to use it for larger groups or as a default for client interaction. We did however use it with one client reliably with 3 to 4 people.

Next to our existing NextCloud we added Zoom, with 4 hosts. Zoom works very well, also with a few dozen participants, and we have been using it for our own all-hands meetings, weekly check-ins and daily coffee times. We also used Zoom for an online workshop, including the use of break-out rooms and that worked very well. Zoom however has been the subject of a lot of privacy and data security criticism, which have only in part been addressed. Various clients of ours do not allow Zoom. Specifically the use of the Zoom client is seen as problematic, some do allow their people participating in a Zoom call through their browser.

Meanwhile our clients operating within the Microsoft silo speeded up their switch to Microsoft Teams, which meant that our interaction with them takes place through Teams’ video conferencing. This for us reduced the need for being the host of a range of meetings, and our need for Zoom.

Still we wanted another video conferencing option for ourselves, that supports larger groups, and is within our own scope of control. We arranged for a managed Jitsi server for our company’s use. This at first glance looked like it might be an expensive solution (as it meant a bespoke service as no regular hosting offers were to be found), but in the end our existing cloud hoster provided us with our own Jitsi server geared to use for larger groups against low costs. Our experiences with Jitsi are somewhat mixed. It works best if everyone is on Chrome browsers, but that in itself is not really desirable nor even easy to ask of every participant. Jitsi does not allow for scheduling or planning a call, as you can only login as a host after starting a call. Jitsi also does not support break out rooms, nor is it on the current development agenda it seems. We’ve used Jitsi reliably in various settings, both with others and amongst ourselves, including a group of 8 people from different organisations. In that case being able to offer to use Jitsi on our own server made the call possible in the first place, as several participants were adamant about not wanting to use other tools such as Zoom.

So the current reality is that we use Nextcloud Talk, Jitsi, Teams, Zoom all in parallel, depending on context and participants, while we also still participate in Hangouts, Webex and Skype for Business meetings. The only thing that has seen a reduction of use is regular phone calls, which upon reflection is an odd effect, as no-one set out to replace or try to improve upon those. Maybe it’s because all the video conferencing tools bring the conversations into the device you have in front of you working from home all day anyway: your computer screen.

Last week I joined an IndieWeb conversation on blogs and wikis. I ended up with three take-aways. One of them was a tip by another participant to keep a day log as a means to add more to the wiki, do more wiki gardening. Writing a list of things you do during the day as you go along, you can then use as a starting point for wiki pages to create or blogposts to write.

This past week on my personal WordPress instance run locally on my laptop I started doing that, and have done every day the past 7 days. During the day I would add bullet points of things I did, thought or that stood out to me in some way.

Immediately I noticed how the act of writing these things down made it easier for me to write a bit more extensively and put it online or in the wiki. Things that normally after a few hours would fall of my radar now got logged and prompted a posting later on. An experiment that worked well for me this past week, and I’ll try to keep doing it.

When I start in the morning, I open up a new post and create a bullet list. At the end of the day it will look something like below. You can see where I linked to something that I wrote in the blog or wiki as a result of listing it in the Day Log.

Day logs

Yesterday I participated in, or more accurately listened in on, a IndieWeb conversation on wikis and their relationship to blogs (session notes).

I didn’t feel like saying much so kept quiet, other than at the start during a (too long) intro round where I described how I’ve looked at and used wiki personally in the past. That past is almost as long as this blog is old. Blogs and wikis were to me the original social software tools.

  • Between 2004 and 2010 I kept a wiki as the main screen on my desktop, sort of like how I used The Brain in years before that. In it I kept conversation notes, kept track of who’s who in the projects I worked on etc. This after a gap in turn got replaced by Evernote in 201210
  • Between 2004 and 2013 I had a public wiki alongside this blog (first WakkaWiki, then WikkaWiki). In those years at one or two points I recreated it from scratch after particular intensive waves of automated spam and vandalism
  • Between 2004 and 2010 I had a wiki covering all the BlogWalk Salons I co-organised from 2004-2008
  • I had a script that let me crosspost from this blog to the wiki alongside it, so I could potentially rework it there. I don’t think that happened much really.
  • At one point I glued blogs, wiki and forum software together as a ‘Patchwork Portal‘ for a group I worked with. Elmine and presented about this together on BlogTalk Reloaded in 2006, showing the co-evolution of a budding community of practice and the patchwork portal as the group’s toolset. Afterwards it was used for a while in a ‘wiki on a stick’ project for education material by one of the group’s members.
  • Two years ago I re-added a wiki style section of sorts to this blog. As I’m the only one editing anyway, I simply use WordPress pages, as when I’m logged in everything has an edit button already. The purpose is to have a place for more static content, so I can refer to notions or overviews more easily, and don’t need to provide people with a range of various blogposts and let them dig out my meaning by themselves. In practice it is a rather empty wiki, consisting mostly of lists of blogposts, much less of content. A plus is that Webmentions work on my pages too, so bidirectional links between my and someone else’s blog and my wiki are easy.
  • With clients and colleagues over the years I’ve used Atlassian as a collaborative tool, and once created a wiki for a client that contained their organisation’s glossary. Current items were not editable, but showed sections directly below that which were. Colleagues could add remarks, examples and propose new terms, and from that periodically the glossary would be changed.

Stock versus flow, gardening and streams
Neil Mather, who has a really intriguing wiki as commonplace book since last fall, mentioned he writes ‘stream first’. This stock (wiki) and flow (blog) perspective is an important one in personal knowledge management. Zettelkasten tools and e.g. Tiddlywiki focus on singular thoughts, crumbs of content as building block, and as such fall somewhere in between that stock and flow notion, as blogging is often a river of these crumbs (bookmarks, likes, an image, a quote etc.) Others mentioned that they blogged as a result of working in their wiki, so the flow originated in the stock. This likely fits when blog posts are articles more than short posts. One of the participants said his blog used to show the things from his wiki he marked as public (which is the flip side of how I used to push blog posts to the wiki if they were marked ‘wikify’).
Another participant mentioned she thinks of blogs as having a ‘first published’ date, and wiki items a ‘last edited’ date. This was a useful remark to me, as that last edited date in combination with e.g. tags or topics, provides a good way to figure out where gardening might be in order.
Ultimately blogs and wikis are not either stock or flow to me but can do both. Wikis also create streams, through recent changes feeds etc. Over the years I had many RSS feeds in my reader alerting me to changes in wikis. I feel both hemmed in by how my blog in its setup puts flow above stock, and how a wiki assumes stock more than flow. But that can all be altered. In the end it’s all just a database, putting different emphasis on different pivots for navigation and exploration.

Capturing crumbs, Zettelkasten
I often struggle with the assumed path of small elements to slightly more reworked content to articles. It smacks of the DIKW pyramid which has no theoretical or practical merit in my eyes. Starting from small crumbs doesn’t work for me as most thoughts are not crumbs but rather like Gestalts. Not that stuff is born from my mind as a fully grown and armed Athena, but notes, ideas and thoughts are mostly not a single thing but a constellation of notions, examples, existing connections and intuited connections. In those constellations, the connections and relations are a key piece for me to express. In wiki those connections are links, but while still key, they are less tangible, not treated as actual content and not annotated. Teasing out the crumbs of such a constellation routinely constitutes a lot of overhead I feel, and to me the primary interest is in those small or big constellations, not the crumbs. The only exception to this is having a way of visualising links between crumbs, based on how wiki pages link to each other, because such visualisations may point to novel constellations for me, emerging from the collection and jumble of stuff in the wiki. That I think is powerful.

Personal and public material
During the conversation I realised that I don’t really have a clear mental image of my wiki section. I refer to it as my personal wiki, but my imagined readership does not include me and only consists of ‘others’. I think that is precisely what feels off with it.
I run a webserver on my laptop, and on it I have a locally hosted blog where very infrequently I write some personal stuff (e.g. I kept a log there in the final weeks of my father’s life) or stream of consciousness style stuff. In my still never meaningfully acted upon notion of leaving Evernote a personal blog/wiki combo for note taking, bookmarking etc might be useful. Also for logging things. One of the remarks that got my interest was the notion of starting a daily note in which over the course of the day you log stuff, and that is then available to later mine for additional expansion, linking and branching off more wiki-items.

A question that came up for me, musing about the conversation is what it is I am trying to automate or reduce friction for? If I am trying to automate curation (getting from crumbs to articles automagically) then that would be undesirable. Only I should curate, as it is my learning and agency that is involved. Having sensemaking aids that surface patterns, visualise links etc would be very helpful. Also in terms of timelines, and in terms of shifting vocabulary (tags) for similar content.

First follow-ups

  • I think I need to return to my 2005 thinking about information strategies, specifically at the collecting, filtering stage and the actions that result from it. and look again at how my blog and wiki can play a bigger role for currently underveloped steps.
  • Playing more purposefully with how I tie the local blog on my laptop to the publlic one sounds like a good experiment.
  • Using logging as a starting point for personal notetaking is an easy experiment to start (I see various other obvious starting points, such as bookmarks or conversations that play that role in my Evernotes currently). Logging also is a good notion for things like the garden and other stuff around the home. I remember how my grandmother kept daily notes about various things, groceries bought, deliveries received, harvest brought in. Her cupboard full of notebooks as a corpus likely would have been a socio-economic research treasure

With stores around the world either being closed or lacking customers because of lock-downs, putting more effort on digital ordering and home delivery or store pick-up. A bookstore in our city started same day home delivery of any book they have in the store, next to their regular central online ordering process.

Boris Mann shows a great example of stores you maybe don’t normally see online. They went around the shop taking pictures of the shelves and sharing those online so customers can find the items they need. What will remain of such steps once we leave our houses again? Revert to the previous mode, or the start of evolving towards more mature digital means? First data on Dutch online retails suggests that many households who previously only bought online 1 or 2 times per year (holiday packages usually), are now doing so much more. It is likely that many of them will not revert fully back.

Clicking through product categories

Photos of shelves, make your choice